The partnership between a meeting professional and an event planning manager or convention services manager (CSM) powers the planning process, creating a memorable experience for attendees while satisfying a planner’s goals and objectives. From the initial event development stages to marketing and promotions to the actual day of the event, ongoing communication enables work to be done and goals to be achieved.
Here are five tips for successful planner/CSM collaboration:
Tip #1: Communicate early and often. As the in-house resource at a hotel, convention center or convention and visitors bureau, CSMs handle all of the details of an event after the sales team completes the sale. As soon as you book your event, realize that the host facility’s CSM is your partner. Planners who are open to collaboration at the onset of the planning process are typically better equipped to meet venue deadlines and are more inclined to communicate important event updates. When planners communicate details about the event, organization, goals and attendee expectations early on, CSMs have plenty of time to recommend thoughtful solutions to ensure an event runs smoothly.
“My goal is to make the event planning process as seamless as possible,” said Denise Reid, event planning manager, Hyatt Centric French Quarter New Orleans, who is also an Event Service Professionals Association (ESPA) Board member. “As soon as the contract is signed, I send an introductory email that includes several date options for an initial meeting or conference call, as well as my contact information, shipping instructions and menu choices.”
Tip #2: Embrace the destination. Be open to having conversations with your CSM about your event goals. CSMs are familiar with local resources and can ensure attendees have an authentic and memorable experience. Through those conversations, a CSM can pinpoint areas that can be enhanced with unique elements, such as a welcome address from a city dignitary, a performance by a local musician or an information booth to guide attendees to local “hot spots” for dining and shopping.
The event service professional may even know of special discounts at local merchants for event amenities or giveaways.
Tip #3: Be flexible and proactive. When it comes to events, the term “planner” is often used broadly. CSMs recognize that some planners are not full-time event planners and are often facing many priorities and even other events that need their attention.
When planners submit event specifications (“specs”), budgets and schedules early it helps to expedite the planning process, giving CSMs plenty of time to review and evaluate them and provide a variety of solutions and ideas prior to a site visit, which saves time and eliminates stress. The more time they have to review meeting room diagrams, for example, the more likely they are to advise on possible double-room bookings, ways to match rooms to lessen turnovers, as well as ensuring there’s plenty of time to make sure room-set requests fit appropriately.
“The services industry is about servicing people and that can be unpredictable work,” said Lisa Bethea, senior convention services and tourism manager at Visit Frisco, who is also an ESPA Board member. “Staying flexible is key. We encourage planners to keep the lines of communication open and give us as much information as possible to help avoid any obstacles.”
Tip #4: Discuss off-site event activities. CSMs recognize that meeting planners are often tasked with planning off-site events. Tap into your event service professional’s expertise on the destination. They will know the variety of possibilities for off-site dinners or activities, as well as the steps needed to achieve a successful event outcome.
“I often secure permits on behalf of my groups to allow them to utilize outdoor spaces or to include elements such as food trucks at their events,” added Bethea.
Tip #5: Recognize a CSM as a trusted partner. CSMs are invaluable resources—especially during challenging times. When a disaster or crisis such as COVID-19 occurs, CSMs can provide real-time updates about safety measures at the hotel or venue, as well as transportation protocols in the city and much more. Once on site, planners can communicate and share this information through a mobile app to keep the lines of communications open with attendees, ensuring they receive timely updates.
“The new safety protocols could mean that there are multiple locations for registration, new or altered setups for a meeting space or venue, as well as changes to food and beverage service, which will all require additional time to execute events,” said Bethea. “We want a planner’s vision to become the reality. The best way to do that is be proactive throughout the planning process, communicate event changes and be ready to pivot should anything change last minute.”
Lynn McCullough serves as Executive Director of the Event Service Professionals Association (ESPA). For 30 years, ESPA has been the only association and voice representing event service professionals from CVBs, hotels and convention centers from across North America. ESPA’s mission is to elevate the event and convention service profession and to prepare members, through education and networking, for their pivotal role in innovative and successful event execution. With 25 years of association and meetings industry experience, Lynn’s responsibilities include overseeing the association’s operations, membership, education and event initiatives. Her primary focus is working in close partnership with the board of directors on leading strategic and growth plans for ESPA. During her tenure, she has supported ESPA members & leaders to help drive programs such as its Accessible Meetings FAQs, its Leadership program, and its ROI of the Event Service Professional, a guide to demonstrating the value of event service. Lynn works diligently to ensure that ESPA members receive exceptional client service and tools for their professional success through education, networking and member benefit programs.
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